The Washington Post

Sorrel (Caribbean Red Drink)

Sorrel (Caribbean Red Drink) 8.000

Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Jun 10, 2022

Red Drink or Sorrel is a traditional tart, sweet and gingery beverage served on Juneteenth. It is made with the roselle hibiscus flower, which is typically cultivated not for its beauty, but for its tart, cranberry-like flavor. This is not the same as the large-flowered variety found in many gardens. D.C. herbalist Sunyatta Amen, who created this recipe, recommends whole spices, with some dried options, but cautions not to use powdered versions of these ingredients. To sweeten, she says to avoid honey, which can dominate, but instead use raw cane juice, turbinado raw sugar or agave. Always stir well before serving. “We garnish with a sprig of gently rubbed mojito mint or African Blue Basil [which you can find in gardens or gardening shops] leaves to honor the ancestors that have gone before us,” she said. The spicy drink can be served hot or cold.

Active time: 20 mins; Total time: 1 hour 40 mins, including 15 minutes steeping and 1 hour cooling time

Storage Notes: Refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Where to Buy: Roselle hibiscus flowers can be found at tea shops, in Asian, Caribbean, Latin and health food markets, and online. African Blue Basil leaves can be found in home gardens or gardening shops.

8 - 12

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 8-12 servings; makes a scant 1 gallon

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1/2 cup (about 1 ounce) dried roselle hibiscus flowers, cut or whole, or 1 cup fresh roselle flowers
  • 6 whole allspice, folded in parchment paper and gently crushed by tapping with a heavy bottle or knife handle
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 3 green cardamom pods, folded in parchment paper and gently crushed by tapping with a heavy bottle or knife handle
  • 1/4 teaspoon green cardamom seeds
  • 1 whole star anise, broken, or 11 whole fennel seeds
  • One (1/2-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger or 1/4 teaspoon dried ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
  • Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Fresh raw cane juice, turbinado raw sugar or agave, optional, to taste
  • Fresh mint sprigs, preferably mojito or fresh basil leaves, preferably African Blue Basil or Thai, to serve (optional)


In a large pot over high heat, bring the water to a vigorous boil. Add the hibiscus flowers, allspice, cloves, cardamom pods and seeds, star anise, cinnamon, ginger, peppercorns, coriander and pepper flakes. Stir and bring back to a rolling boil for 15 minutes. The liquid will reduce a bit.

Remove from the heat, cover and let steep for at least 15 and up to 30 minutes. The longer the drink steeps, the deeper red and more flavorful it will become. Stir well and strain the drink through a fine-mesh sieve into a 1-gallon pitcher.

While the drink is still warm, add fresh raw cane juice, turbinado raw sugar or agave, if using, to taste, stirring until it is well blended or dissolved. (The amount of sweetener will vary depending on the type and your taste; Start with a little and taste until it's to your liking.)

Refrigerate until well chilled, if serving cold, at least 1 hour. Stir well before serving, and pour into ice-filled Mason jars or glasses. Garnish with mint sprigs, basil or African Blue Basil, if using. The drink also can be served hot, if preferred.

Recipe Source

From herbalist Sunyatta Amen, owner of Calabash Tea & Tonic in Washington, D.C.

Tested by Ann Maloney.

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Nutritional Facts

Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.

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